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Spinoza and the Metaphysics of Scepticism

Michael Della Rocca

Spinoza’s response to a certain radical form of scepticism has deep and surprising roots in his rationalist metaphysics. I argue that Spinoza’s commitment to the Prin- ciple of Sucient Reason leads to his naturalistic rejection of certain sharp, inexpli- cable bifurcations in reality such as the bifurcations that a Cartesian system posits between mind and body and between will and intellect. I show how Spinoza identi- es and rejects a similar bifurcation between the representational character of ideas or mental states and the epistemic status of these ideas, a bifurcation to which Spinoza sees the radical sceptic committed. Spinoza’s rejection of this bifurcation helps to explain some of his most cryptic statements concerning scepticism and also reveals a promising and highly metaphysical strategy for understanding and re- sponding to scepticism.

Spinoza is primarily a metaphysician. By this I mean not that Spinoza is more interested in traditional metaphysical topics than in other, appar- ently disparate areas of philosophy such as moral philosophy, political philosophy, and epistemology. That is certainly not the case. One of Spinoza’s strengths as a philosopher is that his interests range so widely within philosophy. What I mean by saying that Spinoza is primarily a metaphysician is that his metaphysical commitments dictate his posi- tions in these other areas. Thus Spinoza derives his positions in other parts of philosophy from his metaphysical views. For Spinoza, the apparently disparate areas of philosophy are only apparently disparate:

they are unied by basic metaphysical principles. In this way, for Spinoza, philosophy is a unied whole in much the same way that real- ity is a unied whole. One might say that Spinoza is monistic not only in philosophy but also about philosophy itself. Elsewhere I have argued that metaphysics is fundamental to Spinoza’s psychology, to his account of action and the aects (Della Rocca 1996b). In this paper, I will attempt to show that Spinoza’s episte- mological views—in particular his way of dealing with a certain form of scepticism—also derive, in surprising ways, from his metaphysical commitments, commitments that also underlie his psychology.

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1. Naturalism and bifurcation

To illuminate these commitments, it will be helpful to begin with Spinoza’s naturalism, and to understand his naturalism it will be help- ful to focus for the moment on Spinoza’s psychology. In the preface to part III of the Ethics, Spinoza famously contrasts his account of the aects with those of his predecessors such as Descartes:

Most of those who have written about the aects, and men's way of living, seem to treat not of natural things, which follow the common laws of Nature, but of things which are outside Nature. Indeed they seem to conceive man in Nature as a dominion within a dominion. For they believe that man dis- turbs, rather than follows [magis perturbare, quam sequi], the order of Na- ture. (G II, p. 137) 1

He goes on, later in the preface, to articulate his own view of the place of man in nature and in so doing he also gives his clearest statement of what I take to be his naturalism:

nothing happens in Nature which can be attributed to any defect in it, for Nature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere the same, that is, the laws and rules of Nature, according to which all things happen, and change from one form to another, are always and everywhere the same, namely through the universal laws and rules of Nature. (G II, p. 138)

Spinoza’s problem with Cartesian and other accounts of the aects is that such views introduce an objectionable bifurcation between human beings and the rest of reality. Here we have non-human nature which operates according to one set of laws and here we have another part of reality—human beings—which operates according to a dierent set of laws or, perhaps, no laws at all. By contrast, Spinoza’s own view is one according to which human beings and the rest of reality are not explained in such dierent ways— one according to which human beings and all else operate according to the same laws. Such a unication of explanatory principles is the heart of Spinoza’s naturalism about psychology: human psychology is gov- erned by the same principles that govern rocks and tables and dogs. More generally, Spinoza’s naturalism, as I understand it, is the view that there are no illegitimate bifurcations in reality. What exactly, in Spinoza’s eyes, is so bad about such bifurcation? A crucial clue comes when Spinoza says that, on the view he rejects, man disturbs rather than follows the order of nature. The fact that, on this

1 I generally follow Curley’s translations of Spinoza’s works. I employ a minor variant of Cur- ley’s method of citing passages from the Ethics.

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view, human beings disturb the order in the rest of reality suggests that human beings cause changes in the rest of reality or that the rest of real- ity acts on human beings, but that these dependence relations between human beings and other things cannot be understood in terms of laws at work generally. How then are these relations of dependence to be explained? First of all, it is important to note that, for Spinoza, the relations must be able to be explained. Spinoza’s Principle of Sucient Reason would require such explanation—more on this in a moment. But, again, how to explain the relations? If they cannot be explained in terms of laws at work generally, then perhaps they are explained in terms of special, local laws of nature–human interaction, as it were. These local laws could not be derived from general laws at work throughout nature for then the behaviour of human beings would, after all, be susceptible to, explicable in terms of, general laws. So the behaviour, in so far as it is explained in terms of local laws, would be explained in terms of irre- ducibly local laws. But then a version of our question arises again: why do these local laws hold, if they are not derived from more generally applicable laws? Because they would be local, such laws would seem, well, anomalous, inexplicable. From the perspective of the general laws, there is no way, as it were, to see these local laws as coming, no way to derive these local laws. And thus the relations explained by the local laws would be, in a way, still brute precisely because brute laws would explain them. Thus, for Spinoza, disturbances are disturbing because they are ultimately inexplicable, because their occurrence would consti- tute brute facts. In general, for Spinoza, whenever there is a dominion within a dominion, that is, whenever there are two kind of things that operate according to dierent principles and are none the less dependent on each other in some way, then the ways in which these things are dependent on each other are disturbances and, ultimately, inexplicable. And what is so bad about inexplicable facts? The answer from Spinoza would be prompt and forceful: inexplicable facts are ruled out because they violate the Principle of Sucient Reason (hereafter ‘the PSR’), according to which each fact has an explanation. 2 In this light,

2 The clearest statement is in 1p11d2: ‘For each thing there must be assigned a cause or reason both for its existence and for its nonexistence.’ The PSR can be seen also in, for example, 1ax2:

‘What cannot be conceived through another, must be conceived through itself.’ This presupposes that each thing must be conceived, and Spinoza makes clear that to conceive of something is to ex- plain it. See the discussion Della Rocca 1996a, pp. 34.

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we can see Spinoza’s naturalism—his attack against illegitimate bifur- cations in reality—as stemming from his rationalist commitment to the PSR. Disturbances of the natural order are disturbing precisely because they are inexplicable. Some of Spinoza’s most characteristic views ow from his naturalis- tic rejection of inexplicable bifurcations. We can see Spinoza’s famous denial of mental-physical causal interaction in this light. For Spinoza, there is no way to explain mental changes in terms of physical changes, or physical changes in terms of mental changes. This is because Spinoza holds (and here Descartes more or less agrees 3 ) that there are no con- ceptual connections between the mental and the physical. That is, from the concept of a physical entity, one cannot derive any conclusions about the existence or nature of a mental entity, and vice versa. 4 In the absence of such conceptual connections between the mental and the physical, Spinoza holds that any dependence between them would be inexplicable. It is actually not clear why Spinoza holds that there is no conceptual connection between the mental and the physical, and thus it is not clear why he holds that any dependence between them would be inexplicable. This is a sore point between me and Spinoza. But given that he does regard mental–physical dependence as inexplicable for this reason, he invokes the PSR to deny that there is any such dependence. 5 Spinoza nds intolerable what he takes to be the Cartesian view that, despite the unintelligibility of mental–physical dependence, there is none the less causal interaction and dependence between the two. For Descartes, according to Spinoza, mind–body interaction—given this conceptual separation—is inexplicable. But—and here Spinoza recoils—that does not stop Descartes from insouciantly proclaiming that there is none the less such interaction. Spinoza saves a rare bit of invective for Descartes on precisely this point. In the Preface to Part V of the Ethics, he objects to the hypothesis of mind–body interaction as ‘a hypothesis more occult than any occult quality’. He goes on to chide Descartes this way in the Preface:

3 Thus in Comments on a Certain Broadsheet, Descartes says that ‘attributes which constitute the natures of things’ are such that ‘the concept of the one is not contained in the concept of the other’ (AT VIII-2, pp. 34950, CSM I, p. 298).

4 See, for example, 3p2: ‘The body cannot determine the mind to thinking, and the mind can- not determine the body to motion, to rest, or to anything else (if there is anything else).’ This claim derives ultimately from 1p10: ‘Each attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself.’

5 In light of such independence, how can Spinoza also hold, as he does in 2p7s, that the mind and the body are identical? That is a long story and one that ultimately also turns on the PSR. See Della Rocca 1996a, Chs. 7 and 8.

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he had conceived the mind to be so distinct from the body that he could not assign any singular cause, either of this union or of the mind itself. Instead, it was necessary for him to have recourse to the cause of the whole universe, that is, to God. (G II, p. 27980)

Finally, Spinoza emphasizes that his concern is with the inexplicability of mental–physical interaction in this passage:

since there is no common measure between the will and motion [cum nulla detur ratio voluntatis ad motum], there is also no comparison between the power, or forces, of the mind and those of the body. Consequently, the forces of the body cannot in any way be determined by those of the mind. (G II, p. 280)

Here again Spinoza rejects a bifurcation between two kinds of thing that are related to one another in inexplicable ways, two things that seem merely tacked on to one another. In this way, Cartesian interac- tionism is a violation of Spinozistic naturalism and ultimately, for Spinoza, of the PSR. In the same naturalistic light, we can see Spinoza’s rejection of a Car- tesian duality of will and intellect. On a Cartesian view (and whether this is the view of Descartes himself is a question I leave open here), there are two radically dierent kinds of mental states: ideas, states of the intellect which, by their very nature, represent things and are purely passive, and volitions which may—indeed must—be directed at ideas but which also involve a non-representational bit of mental power which ideas, as such, do not have. 6 States of each kind are needed in order for an agent to believe something. The idea provides the content to be accepted, rejected or doubted, and the volition provides the men- tal power needed to take up one of these attitudes toward the idea. The volition and the idea join together in this way to produce a belief. Spinoza’s complaint about this picture is that it involves illegitimate connections between radically disparate things. For Spinoza, the repre- sentational ideas and non-representational volitions (or at least the non-representational element in volitions) have too little in common to be able to enter intelligibly into relations of dependence. There is, as in the mental–physical case, no common measure between will and intel- lect in terms of which to make their dependence intelligible. It is true that a volition and an idea are each purported to be mental items, but their dierences are so radical that there is, it seems, nothing in virtue of which they are both to be classied as mental and nothing in virtue of which a volition and an idea can have any relations of dependence.

6 See, for example, The Passions of the Soul I, §17, and also Descartes’s letter to Regius, May 1641 (AT III, p. 372; CSMK, p. 182).

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For Spinoza, from the nature of ideas as ideas there is no way to see the volitions coming, just as from the nature of a physical change, there is no way to see a mental change coming. 7 Spinoza thus sees Descartes as falling prey to an analogue of the mind–body problem within the mind itself. In both the mind–body case and the will–intellect case, Spinoza challenges the Cartesian acceptance of inexplicable relations of dependence between apparently disparate things. Spinoza’s approaches to these problems dier in that in the mind–body case, he accepts the Cartesian conceptual independ- ence of the mental and the physical, whereas he rejects the Cartesian disparity between the will and the intellect. Spinoza holds, instead, that ideas and volitions are identical and that ideas are inherently active. In both cases, though, Spinoza rejects any inexplicable relations of dependence between the entities in question. With regard to the nature of belief, this anti-Cartesian view emerges as the claim that all ideas, as such, are inherently assented to, no sepa- rate act of will is required. Of course, not all ideas are believed, but for Spinoza this is only because other ideas, other representations, have more power and prevent a given idea from leading to action. This rela- tive powerlessness of an idea is what leads us to say that that idea is not believed, and the relative power of an idea is what leads us to say that it is believed. The power in the mind comes solely from the ideas them- selves. There are no separate volitions. To think that there are would, for Spinoza, be to introduce an unacceptable bifurcation within the mind in violation of both his naturalism and the PSR. For Spinoza, the feature of ideas that is responsible for their activity is simply their representational character. Ideas as such are of things, represent things. Thus Spinoza denes ideas as concepts of the mind (2def3). And, for Spinoza, the representational features of ideas exhaust their features. That is, every other feature of an idea must derive in some way from its representational features. For again, consider: if there were some non-representational feature of ideas over and above their representational features, and if these representational and non- representational features entered into relations of dependence, then given their disparity how could they intelligibly be said to be related in this way? Thus the power of an idea must derive solely from its repre- sentational character, from the fact that the idea represents such-and-

7 I have documented elsewhere the case for seeing this kind of concern with illegitimate interac- tion as grounding Spinoza’s rejection of a Cartesian bifurcation between will and intellect (Della Rocca 2003a). The main evidence is that Spinoza’s uses of the parallelism doctrine and his view that all mental states derive from representational states seem to be premised upon his views about the explanatory self-suciency of thought.

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such a thing in such-and-such a way. Further, there can be no qualita- tive or phenomenal features of ideas over and above their representa- tional features. Thus Spinoza holds a representational theory of the mind. 8 This is Spinoza’s naturalism at work, yet again ruling out inex- plicable bifurcation in the same way that he did in the case of mind– body interaction and in the case of the Cartesian account of the aects. It is as if Spinoza is pleading with us this way:

The intuitive unease that we all—or at least very many of us—feel about mind–body interaction is at bottom an unease about unintelli- gible relations between disparate things and an unease about violations of naturalism. And if you feel this unease, that is, if you have even a shred of rationalism (and all you need is a shred), then you should feel equally uneasy about seeing anything else in the mind besides representations and the representational features of mental states.

That Spinoza wants—and has principled reasons for wanting—to characterize all the features of mind in terms of representation is clear. But how representation can do all the jobs that are thus required of it is far from clear. I will return to a version of this question in the nal sec- tion of this paper where I show that, for Spinoza, the epistemic status of a given mental state—whether it amounts to knowledge or certainty or whether it fails to do so—is also purely a function of that state’s repre- sentational features. But rst I want to call attention to an important twist in Spinoza’s use of the PSR that emerges in his discussion of the relation between will and intellect. As we have just seen, Spinoza insists that the relation between will and intellect, idea and volition must not be inexplicable or brute. But now in meeting this demand that the relation be intelligible, Spinoza brings in a further use of the PSR. What volition must be in order for there to be no violation of the PSR is simply representation itself. Volition is nothing but representation; mental action is nothing but representation. But what, for Spinoza, is representation? This is a big question, and I can only touch on it here. The key point for our purposes is that, for Spinoza, to represent a thing is to explain it or to nd it intelligible. This is evident from an important passage in his early, unnished work, On the Emendation of the Intellect (Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione; hereafter ‘TdIE’):

8 Leibniz holds a similar view. See Simmons 2001.

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if by chance we should say that men are changed in a moment into beasts, that is said very generally, so that there is in the mind no concept, i.e. idea, or connection of subject and predicate. For if there were any concept, the mind would see together the means and causes, how and why such a thing was done. (§62)

That Spinoza holds that to represent a thing is to explain it also emerges explicitly from the crucial fourth axiom of Part I of the Ethics: ‘the knowledge of an eect depends on, and involves, the knowledge of its cause’. 9 It is important to note that although Spinoza speaks here of knowledge—literally cognition—he also often phrases this claim in terms of ideas. 10 This suggests strongly that he sees himself as placing a requirement on representation itself, on what it is to have an idea of a thing. Spinoza makes a similar claim in letter 60 where he says, ‘the idea or denition [idea sive definitio] of a thing should express its ecient cause’ (G IV, p. 270). Spinoza says here that to represent a thing, to have the idea of it, is to explain it. 11 We represent things by seeing them in an explanatory network. This is, of course, a highly unusual claim: we seem to be perfectly able to have ideas of things that we cannot explain, indeed of things of whose causes we are completely ignorant. But Spinoza is, in some way, denying this common sense view. I think he has interesting and provocative reasons for this denial, and we will see some of those later in this paper. Right now, however, we can see that, given that, for Spinoza, to rep- resent something is to explain it or to nd it intelligible, in explaining will in terms of representation, Spinoza is introducing the notion of intelligibility in two related ways. First, the relation between will and intellect must be intelligible because Spinoza’s PSR requires that rela- tions and facts in general be intelligible. This is the rst use of the PSR. But what will must be in order to be intelligibly related to ideas is noth- ing but representation which itself is nothing but nding a thing intelli- gible, nothing but explaining a thing in thought. This is the second invocation of the notion of intelligibility. So will must be intelligible,

9 Effectûs cognitio à cognitione causae dependet, & eandem involvit .’

10 See Letter 72 : ‘effectus cognitio sive idea, a cogn itione sive idea causae pendeat .’

11 Spinoza indicates that to see things through their causes is to explain them in 2p7s:

so long as things are considered as modes of thinking, we must explain [explicare] the order of the whole of nature, or the connection of causes, through the attribute of thought alone. And in so far as they are considered as modes of extension, the order of the whole of nature must be explained [explicari] through the attribute of extension alone.

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and to be so it must be representation, that is, it must be nding some- thing intelligible. This is what I call the two-fold use of the PSR, the key principle undergirding Spinoza’s rationalism and naturalism. 12 We see such a two-fold use of the PSR also prominently on display in Spinoza’s treatment of scepticism, the topic to which I now turn.

2. Scepticism and bifurcation

I believe that Spinoza’s account of normativity manifests a disdain for inexplicable relations similar to that which he expresses in the other cases we have already considered. I will focus in what follows on the case of epistemic norms, though I believe similar points apply to moral norms as well.

I want to argue that the sceptic is committed to some kind of primi-

tive bifurcation—in this case between the representational features of a mental state and its meeting or failing to meet relevant epistemic stand- ards. I will then show that Spinoza sees that the sceptic is committed to such a primitive bifurcation and that Spinoza rejects scepticism for this reason. The kind of sceptic I have in mind is a certain kind of Cartesian scep- tic, one who doubts whether we have any epistemic purchase on reality at all. This doubt emerges as a doubt even about ideas that, above all other ideas, we take to be true. These are the ideas that are representa- tionally in order, ideas that meet the highest standards for internal coherence: they contain no internal contradiction; they are maximally

clear and contain no confusion. One might put this by saying that such a sceptic doubts the truth even of our clear and distinct ideas. One might say this, but I hasten to add that I am not putting forward an account of Descartes’s notion of clarity and distinctness—although I do think Descartes’s notion has something to do with the notion of being representationally in order. All I am doing is considering a sceptic who doubts whether ideas that are representationally in order in this way are true. For convenience, I will from time to time invoke the familiar Cartesian terms and call such ideas clear and distinct.

I will also not have much to say on the more substantive issue of what

is involved in an idea’s being representationally in order. I have appealed to internal coherence and lack of confusion. But just what do

12 One can also see a two-fold use of the PSR in Spinoza’s account of representation as explana- tion. First, Spinoza demands that there be an account of what representation is, that representa- tion be explained. This is the rst use of the PSR. Second, Spinoza holds that in order for representation to be explained, it must be mental explanation itself. This is the second use of the notion of explanation in this case. Thus representation is explained in terms of explanation.

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these features amount to? It is very hard to say, and I will not venture to oer here an account of confusion in general or confusion as Spinoza or the sceptic might understand it. 13 This is because the general charac- terisation of the sceptic whom I am considering does not require the resolution of these issues. All we need to specify at this point is that the sceptic I am concerned with takes ideas with a certain set of attractive representational features — call these features ‘clarity and distinctness’—and says that these ideas which, more than any others, we take to be true, may not be true after all. The sceptic need not deny that there are or can be clear and distinct ideas, but, for the sceptic these features do not constitute and, indeed, are not even necessarily connected with the certainty of the idea in question. More specically, while these features may go along with the merely psychological certainty of such ideas, that is, with the fact that such clear and distinct ideas are extremely compelling and perhaps impossible to doubt while one is attending to them, they are none the less, for our sceptic, not normatively or epistemically certain. No matter how clear and distinct the ideas are, the sceptic says, they do not amount to knowledge or genuine normative (and not merely psycho- logical) certainty. In what follows, whenever I speak of certainty I have in mind this kind of normative, not-merely-psychological certainty. Equally, however, for the sceptic, the fact that such ideas are clear and distinct does not by itself constitute the fact (if it is a fact) that those ideas are not genuinely certain. For the sceptic, these ideas fail to be cer- tain not because they are clear and distinct, but because of some further feature which is independent of clarity and distinctness. Although the lack of clarity and distinctness, that is, some kind of internal incoher- ence, may entail that the idea in question is not genuinely certain and does not amount to knowledge, clarity and distinctness by itself does not, for the sceptic, entail lack of genuine certainty. So, for the sceptic, clarity and distinctness does not entail or constitute either certainty or its lack. Clarity and distinctness, on this view, is at most a merely psy- chological feature of ideas and not an epistemic one. What, then, does constitute the epistemic status of clear and distinct ideas if not their clarity and distinctness? For the sceptic, that epistemic status depends on epistemic features of ideas, typically other ideas. Why, on this view, doesn’t a given idea amount to knowledge? Answer:

because we cannot rule out the possibility, that is, we do not know or are not certain that, an evil demon (or whatever) is not making it the case that the idea is false despite its clarity and distinctness and despite

13 For some steps toward an account of confusion in Spinoza, see Della Rocca 1996a, Ch. 3.

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its seeming to us to be true. For the sceptic, being certain of an idea depends on being certain of such things as that God is not a deceiver. For the sceptic, if, per impossibile perhaps, the idea were to amount to knowledge or certainty, that would only be because we were already certain, for example, that God is no deceiver. We can see then that, for the kind of radical sceptic we are consider- ing, there is a sharp divide between epistemic features of ideas (i.e. whether or not they are genuinely certain) and other features such as clarity and distinctness. And it is precisely because of this separation that the sceptic gets his scepticism going. If the epistemic status of ideas—or at least the certainty or positive epistemic status of ideas— were simply a function of their clarity and distinctness, then we would automatically have certainty just by having clear and distinct ideas. (Recall that this sceptic does not deny that we have clear and distinct ideas.) But because the epistemic status of ideas is a feature separate from clarity and distinctness, the door is left open for the sceptic. If the sceptic sees even an inch of daylight here, he will exploit it for all it is worth: for once the distinction is allowed, any putative fact that might be invoked to close the gap between clarity-and-distinctness, on the one hand, and truth, on the other, would itself be called into doubt and so could not legitimately close the gap. This is, of course, the problem of the Cartesian Circle. Someone might try to allow the sceptic his daylight between clarity- and-distinctness and truth, and still hope to show that certainty can be achieved. I do not think that this is a promising strategy, and the his- tory of attempts to resolve the problem of the Circle bears me out here. 14 In any event, I will not explore that strategy here because I do not think it is Spinoza’s strategy. Instead, I want to focus on a strategy—Spinoza’s strategy—that challenges the sceptic’s basic thesis that there is a separation between epistemic and non-epistemic features of ideas. This separation is what I have called a primitive bifurcation. As we have just seen, from the representational features of an idea, in particu- lar from the clarity and distinctness of an idea, we can draw no conclu- sion either way about the epistemic status of the idea. The epistemic status derives, in general, not from the idea’s representational qualities, but from the epistemic status of other ideas. Of course, the epistemic status does require, and thus depend on, the idea’s having some repre-

14 For some discussion and further references, see Della Rocca 2005. I should say also that, for reasons I explain in that paper, Descartes’s actual way of dealing with the Cartesian Circle is surpris- ingly close to the way of dealing with the sceptic that I nd in Spinoza. See also n. 28 in this paper.

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sentational character, but the key point here is that epistemic status cannot be derived from the representational features of ideas alone. And, obviously, the representational features of an idea cannot be derived from its epistemic status. For the sceptic, just by knowing that an idea does not amount to knowledge, we cannot infer that the idea is or is not clear and distinct or that it represents such-and-such an object in such-and-such a way. Thus we can see that, although the epistemic status of an idea is in some way dependent on its representational fea- tures, the epistemic status and representational features are merely tacked on to one another: there is no way to explain the connection between the representational features of an idea and its epistemic status. We can see this point in the following way: starting just from the rep- resentational character of an idea and even presupposing the represen- tational character of other ideas as well, there is no way intelligibly to get to the epistemic status of that (or any other) idea. From the repre- sentational character alone, there is just no way to see the epistemic sta- tus coming, as it were. And from epistemic status alone there is no way to see the representational character coming. We have seen this phenomenon already: in the will/intellect case, from intellect alone, from the nature of ideas qua ideas, there is no way to see the distinct Cartesian volitions coming. In the same way, on the Cartesian view from a physical change, there is no way to see a mental change coming. In each case, there is a relation of dependence between two things that must remain inexplicable, and in each case Spinoza would rule out this relation for precisely this reason. Again, I believe, Spinoza would plead with us this way:

If you feel an unease about the inexplicable relations, on the Carte- sian view, between the mind and the body, the will and the intellect, etc., then you should feel equally uneasy about the inexplicable rela- tion between representational character and epistemic status that is at the heart of the sceptical position.

Spinoza would point out, in eect, that what is wrong with scepticism is that it conicts with naturalism by introducing an illegitimate bifurca- tion between features of ideas and that, ultimately, it conicts with the PSR in much the same way that various other Cartesian dualisms do. The Spinozistic position I am presenting thus seeks to make scepti- cism vulnerable by laying bare its implicit and surprising metaphysical commitments: in particular, its commitment to the rejection of natu- ralism and, consequently, of the PSR. But, of course, this attack on

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scepticism is only as plausible as Spinoza’s case for both naturalism and the PSR. We will see later how Spinoza might motivate these theses. But rst it will be helpful to see just how the view that I have attributed to Spinoza on scepticism emerges from Spinoza’s texts.

3. Spinoza’s texts and the two-fold use

Where does Spinoza say that scepticism involves a primitive bifurcation of features of ideas? An appropriate place to begin is Spinoza’s cryptic claim that ‘truth is its own standard’ (2p43s). 15 At least part of what Spinoza means by this is that the certainty of a given idea does not derive from anything external to the idea. As Spinoza puts this point in TdIE §35 ‘it is clear that, for the certainty of truth, no other sign is needed than having a true idea’. Or, as Spinoza explains more pictur- esquely in 2p43s:

What can there be which is clearer and more certain than a true idea, to serve as a standard of truth? As the light makes both itself and the darkness plain, so truth is the standard both of itself and of the false.

But what, for Spinoza, is it about a certain idea that makes it certain? Spinoza is quite clear that the certainty of an idea stems from its repre- sentational character. Spinoza says in TdIE § 35, ‘certainty is nothing but the objective essence itself, i.e., the mode by which we are aware [sentimus] of the formal essence is certainty itself ’. 16 The objective essence of a thing is just the representation of that thing’s essence. So Spinoza is saying that certainty is just representation itself. 17 For Spinoza, then, by having a particular representational character, an idea is certain. In order for an idea that one has to be certain, one does not have to take the representational features as given and then ask the question: in virtue of what is an idea with these representational features certain (if it is certain)? No, Spinoza’s point is that the idea is certain by virtue of its representational features alone. Spinoza sums it up in TdIE §36:

truth requires no sign, but it suces, in order to remove all doubt, to have the objective essences of things, or, what is the same, ideas.

15 Veritas sui sit norma’ (G II, p. 124). See also Short Treatise II, Ch. 15 (G I, p. 789).

16 certitudo nihil sit praeter ipsam essentiam objectivam; id est, modus, quo sentimus essentiam formalem, est ipsa certitudo.’

17 Spinoza’s focus on essences—objective and formal—is due, I believe, to his view that one represents a thing by representing its essence. I will not go into the motivations for that view here which I discuss in Della Rocca 1996a, Ch. 5, and which is, I think, connected with his view— discussed elsewhere in this paper—that to represent a thing is to explain it.

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In these passages, Spinoza thus clearly removes the bifurcation between representational character and epistemic status that is the hallmark of scepticism. This is, I believe, strong evidence for the interpretation I have oered. Is there any evidence that Spinoza sees this daylight as objectionable for the reasons I have suggested—that is, because it involves a primitive bifurcation, a brute fact, a gratuitous tacking-on? There is indeed. In illustrating the point that ideas are inherently certain in 2p43s, Spinoza says that those who deny this view must see ideas as mute pictures on a tablet. This is precisely the same metaphor he later uses in discussing opponents of his thesis that the will and intellect are identical (2p49s, G II, p. 132). The key point in the case of the will is that ideas— representations—are inherently active, volitions, and not mute pic- tures. As I indicated earlier, Spinoza holds the thesis of the inherent activity of ideas because to see the activity as imposed on ideas from without (by a separate act of will) would be to introduce a kind of ille- gitimate interaction between an active, but non-representational men- tal item and a representational but purely passive mental item (see Della Rocca 2003a). So in tying this doctrine about ideas’ inherent activity to his doctrine about ideas’ inherent certainty, Spinoza links that doctrine about certainty to his pervasive concerns about illegiti- mate relations between disparate things. 18 Here we see in Spinoza another instance of the two-fold use of the PSR. In eect, Spinoza’s rst question in broaching the topic of cer- tainty is: what is certainty? In virtue of what is an idea certain? Or, more generally, in virtue of what does an idea meet or fail to meet particular epistemic standards? Spinoza does not want it to be a brute fact that an idea has a particular epistemic status, as it is for the sceptic who sepa- rates representational character and epistemic status. This is the rst use of the PSR in this case. His second use emerges when he tells us what certainty is: it is representation itself. But representation is, for Spinoza, as we have seen, simply nding something intelligible or expli- cable. So in representing things we see them as intelligible or explicable, as conforming to the PSR. This is the second use of the notion of intel- ligibility or of the PSR in this case. For Spinoza, not only must certainty

18 There is a similar linking of Spinoza’s views on certainty and his identication of will and in- tellect in note n of TdIE in §34. There in discussing the inherent certainty of an idea, Spinoza says revealingly:

Note that here we are not asking how the rst objective essence is in us. For that pertains to the investigation of nature, where we explain these things more fully, and at the same time show that apart from the idea there is neither armation, nor negation nor any will.

One could say that Spinoza redeems this promissory note in the latter stages of Part II of the Ethics.

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or epistemic status not be a brute fact, not only must certainty be intel- ligible, but the only way for epistemic status to be intelligible is for it to be nothing but representation or nding something intelligible. Just as will is understood in terms of representation or nding something intelligible, so too is certainty to be understood in these terms. In tying certainty to representation in this way, Spinoza faces an immediate problem: if certainty is a function of representation, then why should we not conclude that all ideas are certain? After all, all ideas just are, as we have noted, representations. In answering the sceptic in Spinoza’s way, we seem to have gone from one extreme—all ideas are doubtful—to the other—all ideas are certain. How then, for Spinoza, can ideas fail to be certain? 19 Spinoza’s answer would be that just as ideas are certain in virtue of their representational features, so too they fail to be certain in virtue of their representational features. Here Spinoza would appeal to the notions—the representational notions— of unclarity and confusion. Ideas are certain to the extent to which they are clear and distinct, and they are uncertain to the extent that they fail to have these representational qualities. Thus Spinoza speaks of ‘the privation of knowledge which inadequate, or mutilated and confused, ideas involve’ (2p35). Of course, we are still in need of a full-blown Spinozistic account of confusion (not to mention ‘mutilation’!), but we can see in general terms at least that, for Spinoza, all epistemic status— positive and negative—is to be cashed out in terms of representation.

4. How does representation pull this off?

Spinoza’s account up to this point—whatever else you might think of it—seems to be an ambitious attempt to see certainty as inherent to at least some ideas, to see certainty as just a function of representation. But unless Spinoza has an account of how mere representation can pull othis epistemic trick, his response to the sceptic will seem unmoti- vated. How, then, for Spinoza does representation constitute certainty? The answer turns on Spinoza’s rationalism. In answering this question, I will, as before, focus on the positive case—fully certain ideas—and only glancingly engage the issue of how ideas that are less than fully cer- tain have this lesser status in virtue of representation. I will approach this question also by asking, in the rst instance, how the representa- tional character of ideas can, by itself, guarantee the truth of the ideas.

19 A similar problem arises from Spinoza’s parallelism which seems to entail that all ideas are true. For discussion of this problem, see Della Rocca 1996a, Ch. 6. See also Short Treatise II, 16, §7 (G I, p. 83).

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After that, I will more briey consider how, given that representation can guarantee truth, it can also constitute the certainty of the idea. How then does representational character guarantee truth? Recall that, for Spinoza, to represent something is just to explain it, to nd it intelligible. For simplicity, I will put this point by saying that represen- tation is mental intelligibility. So our question becomes: why does nd- ing something intelligible guarantee the truth of propositions concerning that thing? Why should even the clearest, most coherent idea be true? This is at bottom the same sceptical question with which we began. To answer this question about truth, let us dig down to another ques- tion: what is it in virtue of which a given proposition is true? This is a perfectly natural question to ask—especially for a rationalist, such as Spinoza, who is always asking ‘in virtue of ’ questions. The natural answer is that the truth of a proposition consists in the fact that the proposition is of a certain state of aairs which exists or obtains. Let us bracket the question of what it is for a proposition to be of a given state of aairs 20 and focus instead on what it is for a state of aairs or indeed anything to exist. In other words, what does existence consist in? This too is, I believe, a perfectly natural question for a rationalist to ask. Indeed, I think it is natural full stop. We want to be able to say what it is that distinguishes states of aairs or things in general that do not exist from states of aairs or things that do. What is it that J. K. Rowling has that Harry Potter lacks? Or what is it that Bush’s being president of the United States has that, say, my being president lacks? Without such an account, there would be an inexplicable relation between true proposi- tions and false ones: in virtue of what are just these propositions true and these false? There would be no good answer to this question if we lacked an account of what it is for a proposition to be true, to be such that a given state of aairs which the proposition is about exists. And precisely because there are relations of dependence between existing states of aairs and non-existing states of aairs (e.g. certain states of aairs fail to exist because other states of aairs do exist), this inexplica- ble division between states of aairs would count as an illegitimate bifurcation in the terminology of this paper. In this respect, existence is analogous to causation. Reductionists about causation believe it is perfectly natural to demand that an

20 Presumably, Spinoza’s answer would be that—in keeping with or at least in analogy to his parallelism of 2p7 and 2p7s—a proposition is of a given state of aairs by entering into depend- ence relations among other propositions that mirror the dependence relations among that states of aairs themselves.

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account be given of causation, that it be possible to specify what unites the various cases of causation between events and distinguishes those cases from ones in which events are not causally related. To leave this dierence between two kind of cases primitive or inexplicable would, in the terminology of this paper, be to introduce an illegitimate bifurca- tion. Reductionists have oered various accounts, but they agree on the legitimacy of the demand. I have sketched elsewhere (Della Rocca 2003b) an account of causation as conceptual connection, developing what I take to be Spinoza’s account (and introducing yet another instance of the two-fold use of the PSR). But that specic account is not something that I am pressing here, rather I just want to point out that the demand for an account of causation seems perfectly natural, though not, of course, uncontroversial. In the same way, I think that the demand for an account of existence is perfectly natural. What account, then, does Spinoza oer? For Spinoza, for a thing to exist is simply for that thing to be intelligible or conceivable, that is, for the thing to be capable of being explained. If you want a slogan, then take this: ‘existence is intelligibility’. I have made the case in detail else- where (Della Rocca 2003b) for attributing this view to Spinoza. Let me give a few highlights here. For Spinoza, God’s essence is identical to God’s existence (1p20). Further, God’s essence is just the fact that God is self-conceived or intelligible through himself. 21 Spinoza’s view is that what holds for God also holds for other things, that is, to use the lingo, for God’s modes. Of course, modes are not self-conceived as God is. Rather, their essence is to be conceived through something else, namely God (see 1def5, the denition of mode). None the less, just as God’s existence is God’s intelligibility, the fact that God is intelligible, so too the existence of anything else just is the fact that that thing is intelligible. Thus Spinoza says in 1p25s: ‘God must be called the cause of all things in the same sense in which he is called the cause of himself.’ Now God is cause of himself in the sense that God’s essence makes God conceivable or intelligible and this intelligibility is God’s existence. If, as Spinoza says in 1p25s, God is the cause of a mode in the same sense in which he

21 See the denition of substance, 1def3, and keep in mind both that God is dened as a sub- stance, and that, as Spinoza says in 3p4d for example, the denition of a thing states its essence. Spinoza actually denes a substance as that which is not only self-conceived, but also as that which is in itself. So perhaps God’s essence is for God to be self-conceived and in itself. Perhaps, then, God’s essence is not simply God’s being intelligible through himself, it also consists in part in God’s being in himself. However, I believe that ultimately the in-itself relation is not dierent from the conceived-through-itself relation. I cannot fully develop this point here, but I would argue that such an identity holds for Spinoza because there is nothing in virtue of which the two relations could be dierent, and therefore a distinction between the in-itself relation and the conceived- through-itself relation would be an illegitimate bifurcation.

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is the cause of himself, then Spinoza must mean that God’s essence makes the mode intelligible and this intelligibility is the existence of the mode. So, given that God’s existence is his intelligibility, I do not see how God could be the cause of modes in the same sense as he is cause of himself unless the existence of modes is their intelligibility. Thus, for Spinoza, the mere intelligibility of a thing is the existence of that thing. Other things dier from God only in that God is intelligible through himself and modes are not, but are rather intelligible only through God. Still, in all cases, the existence of a thing is its intelligibility. Spinoza’s view that existence just is intelligibility represents another two-fold use of the PSR. Spinoza requires that existence be explained. This demand is an application of the PSR and represents the rst use. In saying that existence is explained in terms of conceivability or intelligibil- ity or explicability, Spinoza says, after insisting on a demand for an expla- nation of existence, that existence is explained in terms of explicability, that is, it is conceived in terms of conceivability. This second use of the notion of intelligibility is the second fold in the two-fold use of the PSR. This view that existence requires an explanation and that it is explained in terms of intelligibility itself has a number of striking conse- quences, only three of which I will highlight here. First, since for some- thing to exist is for it to be intelligible, then something that does not exist must literally be unintelligible. What does not exist does not exist precisely because it cannot be coherently conceived, that is, because its existence would involve a brute fact. For Spinoza, the realm of existence exhausts the realm of the conceivable or intelligible. This claim is at the heart of Spinoza’s necessitarianism, a thesis I take Spinoza to be express- ing in 1p33: ‘Things could have been produced by God in no other way, and in no other order than they have been produced.’ 22 The second consequence is even more striking. And this is so because this consequence is not a consequence of the claim that existence is intelligibility, but of the apparently tamer claim that existence requires some kind of explanation in much the same way that, according to the reductionist, causation does. To say that existence is explicable is to say that for each existing thing, there is something in virtue of which it exists, something that explains its existence. This statement is, however, tantamount to a version of the PSR, the claim (in part) that there is a sucient reason for the existence of each thing that exists. One can see

22 For a dierent and more detailed defense of a necessitarian reading of Spinoza, see Garrett 1991. Curley and Walski 1999 mounts a powerful defense of a non-necessitarian reading of Spinoza. I cannot here enter directly into this debate.

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the considerations I just raised as providing an argument for the PSR. If one nds plausible the view that existence needs to be explained, one will also nd the PSR plausible. 23 One can see Spinoza as pleading with us in this way to accept the PSR:

If (as all right-thinking people are) you are at all uneasy about seeing causation as a primitive relation, about regarding the distinction be- tween cases of causation and cases in which events are not causally related as a primitive distinction; if you are at all uneasy about the kind of unintelligible connections that mind–body interaction would involve on the Cartesian view; if you are at all uneasy about seeing, as Descartes does, human psychology and behaviour as not covered by the laws at work throughout nature; if you are at all uneasy about the sharp divide between representational and non-representational fea- tures of mental states, a divide that Descartes and many other philosophers accept, then you will also have positive reason to see ex- istence as requiring an explanation, to see the distinction between true propositions and false ones as not primitive. And if one does ac- cept the explicability of existence, then one is committed to the PSR.

Here then one can see the motivation for the kind of rationalism and naturalism in terms of which I have framed my discussion of Spinoza. Finally, the claim that existence is intelligibility helps us to identify the sources of Spinoza’s view that to represent something is to nd it intelligible. Start with the plausible assumption that to represent some- thing is to represent its existence. 24 Then consider that, given the iden- tity, for Spinoza, between the existence of a thing and its intelligibility, it follows that when we represent a thing, we represent its existence, that is we represent its intelligibility, that is we represent the way it is explained. Thus Spinoza’s rationalist identication of existence and intelligibility leads to his view that to represent a thing is to explain it. 25

23 Portions of this and the previous three paragraphs have been adapted from Della Rocca

2003b

24 Perhaps Kant is making this point in his criticism of the ontological argument when he says, ‘when I think a thing, through whichever and however many predicates I like, … not the least bit gets added to the thing when I posit in addition that this thing is’ (Kant 1781/1787, A600/B628). Perhaps Hume makes the same point: ‘the idea of existence is nothing dierent from the idea of any object, and when after the simple conception of any thing we wou’d conceive it as existent, we in reality make no addition to or alteration of our rst idea’ (Hume 1739, p. 94).

25 There is, perhaps, still a gap between representing the explanation of a thing and explaining that thing. Perhaps. But in any event, this line of thought helps us at least to begin to see why Spinoza holds that to represent a thing is to explain it.

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One challenge to this argument might be the following: even if exist- ence is identical to intelligibility, it need not follow that representing a thing’s existence is representing its intelligibility. Perhaps one is not aware of the identity between existence and intelligibility, and so the inference does not go through. I think that this objection can be obvi- ated by pointing out that there is good reason to think not only that existence and intelligibility are identical for Spinoza, but also that the concept of the existence of a thing just is the concept of its intelligibility. If this is so, then existence and intelligibility are not just metaphysically identical, but, as we might say, conceptually identical. This even more intimate connection between existence and intelligibility allows the inference to go forward. But where does Spinoza say that the concept of existence just is the concept of intelligibility? Perhaps the clearest indi- cation comes from the denitions of substance and mode (substance and mode exhaust the things that exist). Spinoza defines these notions—at least in part 26 —in terms of the way in which these things are conceived or explained. Thus, it seems that for Spinoza the concept of a thing is the concept of something that is explained in some way. From here it is but a short step to say that the concept of the existence of a thing is the concept of its intelligibility. Let us come down to earth now and return to the mundane matter of radical scepticism and to the problem I identied in Spinoza’s response to scepticism. We now have the resources to make progress on this problem. The problem was this: there seems to be no connection between what I have called mental intelligibility—that is, for Spinoza, representation—and truth. Why should nding a proposition intelligi- ble be correlated with the truth of that proposition? Or, why should nding something intelligible be correlated with the existence of that thing? The answer should now be clear: given that the intelligibility of a thing is, for Spinoza, just the existence of that thing, it follows that in nding something intelligible, one is grasping its existence. So, for Spinoza, it is incoherent to suppose—as the sceptic does—that one nds something intelligible and yet that thing does not exist. This then is the connection between mental intelligibility—nding something intelligible—and truth. This connection between representation—mental intelligibility— and truth may seem to be in tension with Spinoza’s explanatory barrier between the attributes. Consider the representation or idea of a body. This representation, as I am arguing, is by its nature a grasp of the exist- ence of that body. Thus there is a connection between a representation

26 See n. 21.

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and an extended state of aairs. This connection may seem to go against the explanatory barrier because a particular representation is here explained (at least partially) in terms of an extended state of aairs. But this is not so: there is no such explanatory relation. Yes, there is guaranteed to be an extended state of aairs for each represen- tation. This guarantee ows not from the nature of thought or of exten- sion in particular, but simply from Spinoza’s parallelism between the attributes as outlined in 2p7 and 2p7s. The explanation of the idea of a body—of the representation of a body—is not the body itself, but rather another idea, namely the idea of the cause of the body. The explanatory chain of ideas is not ‘disturbed’ by any extended state of aairs (and, vice versa, the explanatory chain of extended states of aairs is not disturbed by any ideas). Because each explanatory chain remains pure, the explanatory barrier is preserved. I mentioned earlier that even if there is such a connection between mental intelligibility and truth, it may not follow that when one nds something intelligible one is thereby certain. Certainty, of course, requires more than just truth. However, what we are talking about here is not just intelligibility, but mental intelligibility, that is, nding some- thing intelligible, knowing that it is intelligible. For Spinoza, given that intelligibility is existence and, indeed, that the concept of existence just is the concept of intelligibility, knowing that something is intelligible is already knowing that it exists. For Spinoza, seeing that something is intelligible, that is, being able to explain it, is already being certain that it exists. Of course, the ability to explain something can come in degrees. Confusion—a representational feature of mental states—can cloud our grasp of explanatory connections among things and, to the extent that it does, we are less certain of the existence of the things in ques- tion. 27 Nevertheless, our ideas, by their very nature as representations, involve some grasp of explanatory connections among things, and thus our ideas involve some grasp of the existence of those things. So even when our ideas are not maximally clear and distinct, are not fully pos- sessed of those representational features that constitute certainty, our ideas—indeed all ideas—have these features to some degree, and so we

27 Spinoza acknowledges that there are degrees of certainty of the existence of things in 1p11s:

‘there is nothing of whose existence we can be more certain than we are of the existence of an abso- lutely innite, or perfect, being—that is, God.’

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are not, as the radical sceptic feared (or hoped?) completely cut ofrom reality. We do have some degree of epistemic contact with the existence of things. 28 Spinoza’s response to the sceptic thus turns on three key theses:

(1)

the rejection of primitive bifurcation

(2)

the identication of intelligibility and existence

(3)

the identication of representing something and nding that thing intelligible

The rst claim leads Spinoza to reject the sceptic’s sharp distinction between representational character and epistemic status. For Spinoza, representational qualities such as clarity and distinctness constitute the certainty of an idea. In response to the problem of showing how repre- sentation can perform this wonderful task, Spinoza would invoke claims (2) and (3). The identication of existence and intelligibility fol- lows in part, as we have seen, from Spinoza’s rejection of primitive bifurcation. That is, claim (2) follows in part from claim (1). This link between existence and intelligibility shows that simply by grasping the intelligibility of a thing, a mind is grasping its existence. Thus by dem- onstrating (3) to hold, that is, by showing that representing in general is nding something intelligible, one can show that by representing some- thing we are in a position to grasp that it exists, that is, to know that it exists. And, indeed, one can show that (3) is true because it follows, as we have seen, from (2) and thus from (1). And, of course, claim (1), the rejection of primitive bifurcation, is grounded, as we have seen, in Spinoza’s naturalism and, ultimately, the PSR. Because Spinoza’s criticism thus relies heavily on the PSR, the sceptic can, of course, avoid this criticism simply by not accepting the PSR. This is a consistent move, but, again, Spinoza is pointing out that there is a price to be paid for not accepting the PSR: the price of embracing a primitive bifurcation in reality, a bifurcation that is of a piece with vari-

28 This view has complicated connections to Descartes’s actual view. See Della Rocca 2005. Like Spinoza, Descartes on my interpretation, sees certainty (genuine, normative certainty) as built-in to clarity and distinctness. So we do, for Descartes, have epistemic contact with the world in some cases. However, I believe that, for Descartes, ideas that are not clear and distinct have, initially at least, no degree of certainty: with regard to such ideas, the guarantee provided by God’s veracity is not applicable. This is because we have the ability not to assent to such ideas and so we are, as it were, on our own. If we go wrong in assenting to such an ideas, it is our fault, in some sense, not God’s. This sharp distinction in Descartes between ideas that do receive the divine guarantee and are certain, on the one hand and, on the other, ideas that do not receive the divine guarantee and are not at all certain is, I would argue, another bifurcation in Descartes and one that is importantly connected to his bifurcation between will and intellect.

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ous Cartesian dualisms that many nd very objectionable. Perhaps this

is a price the sceptic is willing to pay, but for those of us not willing to

pay that price, not willing to accept such Cartesian dualisms, or even

for those of us merely reluctant to pay such a price, Spinoza has oered

a new, metaphysical way to see what may be unacceptable about

scepticism. This is an extremely metaphysical treatment of an epistemological problem. This may seem highly unusual. But Spinoza knows what he is doing: he self-consciously sees metaphysics and, in particular, the PSR, as dictating the right way to approach other, apparently non-metaphys- ical problems. Just as Spinoza seeks to unify the world under one set of

intelligible laws without primitive bifurcation, so too for Spinoza there

is no primitive bifurcation in philosophy itself. Instead, all regions of

philosophy are at bottom metaphysical: philosophy is everywhere the same. Spinoza’s metaphysical approach to scepticism is but one mani- festation of the smoothness of Spinoza’s conception not only of nature, but also of philosophy itself. 29

Department of Philosophy Yale University P.O. Box 208306 New Haven, CT 06520 USA michael.della@yale.edu

References Works by Spinoza and by Descartes

Adam, Charles and Paul Tannery (eds) 196476: Oeuvres de Descartes (12 vols). Paris: J. Vrin. (Abbreviation: AT) Cottingham, John, Robert Stootho, and Dugald Murdoch (trans.) 1985: The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (2 vols). Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press. (CSM) Cottingham, John, Robert Stootho, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny (trans.) 1991: The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (CSMK)

michael della rocca

29 Earlier versions of this paper were presented at Boston University, the Chapel Hill Collo- quium, Columbia University, Connecticut College, and the University of Toronto. I would like to thank my audiences on those occasions, my colleagues and students at Yale, and, especially, Aaron Garrett, Yitzhak Melamed, Alan Nelson, Samuel Newlands, and Ed Curley, who was a wonderful commentator on the paper at Chapel Hill.

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